Suzassippi’s Mississippi: Revisiting the former U.S. Post Office and Courthouse in Jackson

Jackson PO and CH 2The former U S Post Office and Courthouse (Eastland Building) in Jackson has had its share of news since its beginnings in 1932, or 1933, depending on which source one utilizes, and possibly, whether one counts “planning” or just construction.  In a bit of a different way of viewing this interesting building, past and future, a good place to begin on a historic preservation post is with what was demolished to make room for this modern-in-1933 replacement.

c. 1915 image of U S Post Office and Courthouse. Retrieved from the MDAH Historic Resources Inventory database 09/19/2015.

c. 1915 image of U S Post Office and Courthouse. Retrieved from the MDAH Historic Resources Inventory database 09/19/2015.

Described as a “fine Italian Renaissance style building” constructed in 1884-1885, Mifflin E. Bell, Supervising Architect of the Treasury, is documented as the architect of the US Post Office and Courthouse pictured to the left.  The post office and courthouse occupied the same corner of East Capitol street: number 245.  In 1900, James Knox Taylor, Supervising Architect of the Treasury and Congress Construction Company from Chicago were responsible for the annex.  The post card image below illustrates that addition, visible to the left of the door, and where one can see the slight change in the roofline.

Retrieved from MDAH Historic Resources Inventory, 09/19/2015

Retrieved from MDAH Historic Resources Inventory, 09/19/2015

The March 18-19, 1932 record of the 72nd Congress reported on the amendment to a 1929 authorization

…for the acquisition of site and construction of a building in Jackson, Mississippi, under an estimated total cost of $825,000, be, and the same is hereby, amended to authorize and direct the Secretary of the Treasury to enter into contracts for the demolition of the present building in Jackson, Mississippi, and for the construction of a new post office, courthouse, and so forth, building on the present site as enlarged by the land acquired under the authorization in said Act of March 4, 1929, and the unexpended balance of the amounts appropriated under the authority of such Act is hereby made available for the purposes herein. Approved, March 19, 1932.  (Chapter 89, p. 69)

As usual, history is complex.  The (Old) Hinds County Courthouse on 125 West Street, South, constructed in 1902, was demolished in 1933 “to make way for the construction of the 1935 Post Office (now Eastland Federal Courthouse)” according to the fact sheet for MDAH Historic Resources Inventory.  The photograph indicates its placement next to the former US Post Office and Courthouse pictured above, demolished also for the new building.  The Laurel Leader Call, December 4, 1930, p. 5 describes the planned dedication of the new Hinds County Courthouse, three blocks off Capitol Street, and reported the old courthouse building as “next to the post office.”

Retrieved from MDAH Historic Resources Inventory 09/19/2015

Retrieved from MDAH Historic Resources Inventory 09/19/2015

So let’s do a little recap here: 1884, Italian Renaissance post office and courthouse built; demolished in probably 1933, since the approval initially granted in 1929 was not re-authorized until 1932, and the courthouse next to the old post office was demolished in 1933–also to make room for the new US Post Office and Courthouse.  New federal building (post office and courthouse) construction began in 1932 according to W. C. Allen (1975) in the National Register of Historic Places nomination form for the Smith Park Architectural district and 1932 is the documented date in the MDAH database.  The U S General Services Administration website puts the building at 1933-34, and the cornerstone depicts 1933.  Given the original approval for demolition of old building and construction of new replacement was in 1929, and reauthorization of those funds was in 1932, that puts the Congressional approval prior to the New Deal Administration beginning in 1933. Only projects developed and funded after the Roosevelt administration took control in 1933 are actually considered New Deal; others are under the Hoover administration, which did do some preliminary work in expanding federal facilities and which Roosevelt significantly expanded.

The December 26, 1932 Greenville Daily Democrat Times reported:

Jackson gets new federal building. The above shows the wrecking of the old post office in Jackson, which is the clearance of a site for the new eight hundred and fifty thousand dollar Federal Building to be completed about June 1934.  For the past forty-five years this building has been a land mark for the Capitol City, and with its destruction, along with the Court House building seen at the left will offer a very attractive location in the heart of the city for the splendid structure. (p. 2)

Now, about that current building, formerly known as the Eastland Federal Building:  A few more details and an update on plans for the future.

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Allen’s work describes the building as concrete with sandstone veneer; US General Services Administration refers to it as limestone.  Interior contains marble, described as St. Genevieve marble by USGSA, and that during construction one source of marble supply closed and a new supply for marble had to be located.  Parker Construction of Cincinnati is documented as the builder (MDAH, HRI database fact sheet).

As has been previously noted on Preservation in Mississippi, the building was sold and is in process of conversion to housing, a restaurant, and bar.  Chef Nick Wallace plans the Lunette restaurant, named for the skylights over the former mail room sorting floor, and the LaPoste bar in the former post office lobby (Nell Luter Floyd, New Jackson restaurant coming to old Federal Building, The Clarion-Ledger, 01/20/2015).  Chef Wallace’s restaurant will be “farm-to-table” and reflect his style of merging fine French culinary skills with his homegrown Mississippi roots.  I can’t wait to get my table, and the opportunity to see what is inside this building. There are some photographs of the beautiful marble work and other Art Deco influences available on the Historic Resources Inventory, so take some time and give them a look.  The developers promise to maintain the history and architectural integrity of the building in the renovation, and Wallace even plans to have a backdrop of postal boxes in the LaPoste bar.  Mississippi Department of Archives and History will be involved during the renovation due to the historic status of the former post office and courthouse, and at least, it did not suffer the sad fate of the two buildings razed 82 years ago to make room for it.

And of the former courthouse’s successor, the H3Hardy Collaboration Architecture design was listed on the 30 most architecturally impressive courthouses in the U S, and was the recipient of the 2012 Region 4 Phoenix Award.  According to the General Services Administration, the Brownfields conference and award is:

…the largest event in the nation focusing on environmental revitalization and economic redevelopment.  The Phoenix Awards honors the innovative leadership in addressing critical environmental problems of transforming abandoned property into productive sites for new economic and community development.

 Like I said, history is complex.

 

 

 



Categories: Courthouses, Historic Preservation, MS Dept. of Archives and History, Post Offices

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8 replies

  1. Oh my! I think I am going to cry. The beautiful building with Greek pediment in the foreground of the postcard – gone? Demolished? This is such a wonderful post. Thank you so much for the photos, old postcard and information. Thank goodness the present “old” post office/federal courthouse did not get the same treatment as what it is presently going on at the corner of Tombigbee and West Streets where the new hotel is going to be built – UGH!

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  2. Complex is right. I needed a flow chart and map for this one! I’ll join you at table!

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  3. Any news on when the conversion will be complete? It’s been underway for quite a while.

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    • I heard that work stopped when the Mississippi Historic Preservation Tax Credit hit its ceiling earlier this year, and that it probably won’t start back until the Legislature renews it, assuming they do so when they are back in session. I’ve also heard there’s a new owner and that the plans may be in flux. Not sure that’s been in the papers.

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  4. As of today it looks like it is just sitting and decaying. There are open windows and boarded up ones, too. No sign of any work being done. Sad.

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